Monday, July 24, 2006

Saints and Blogging

So I'm taking (good-natured) fire over on Kelly Malloy's blog because I hate yard work and she loves it.

Once and for all: I hate yard work. Hate it. I hate the bugs. I hate the heat. I hate the grass and the shrubs and the weeds and the lawn mower. I don't mind the beer afterward, but only if it's cold, and it better not be lite. Not that it matters, because my eyes are usually swollen shut from all the pollen. That is, if I ignore the Benadryl so I don't take a nap in the weeds.

If I ever write a manifesto, "I hate yard work" will be ahead of "I hate Republicans," but behind "I love Bruce Springsteen."

Let me put it into perspective: I'd rather clean the bathroom. Twice. And do the laundry. Then the dishes (but don't mention that part to the Saint).

Speaking of the Saint, I was telling her about my blogging-writing friends this evening and I was having trouble explaining the concept that I have friends I haven't met yet. The Saint said, "I don't want to end up on Maury Povich." Which was her second-funniest line of the evening, but I'm not allowed to tell you what the funniest one was.

Don't worry, the funniest line had nothing to do with any of you, friends we have yet to meet. Plus, the Saint KNOWS Jim Atwell AND Kelly Malloy AND Eugena Pilek, and they're all on the links list over to the right. I mean, none of you are crazy... which makes... Me ... the crazy one.

The kids are at my in-laws' until Wednesday. So the Saint and I had a Monday night date here. For the record, it's been a LONG time since we've had a Monday night date. Yes, she suggested it. She left me a really nice voicemail at work today. It was like the movie: She had me at "Hello."

Oh, yeah. We had more Sangria. It was better Sangria than we had in Pennsylvania. Cheaper, too. I'm on this really wild Sangria kick lately. Not sure why. My parents used to make it when I was a kid and I hated it then. But now I... love it. It's one of the only ways you'll get me to drink wine.

Back to... friends and drinks... You know those block parties people sometimes have? Where everybody in the neighborhood brings food... nine or ten people bring macaroni salad and six of them made a bad batch... nobody remembers potato salad and there's always one person allergic to mayo anyway... and somebody makes a really good lasagna, but there's only enough for two and then the kids get into it... and somebody else makes 39 hot dogs and the kids drink too much soda?

Right. I remember those, too. There's good beer and great company and nobody really cares how the food tastes. It's too bad we couldn't do the cyber-equivalent of a block party. Maybe a blog party... where everybody gets on the web and on a conference call... and drinks for an hour or two... and records all the observations in real time.

OK, that sounded better when I was drinking Sangria. But if we do have a blog party, I vote we hold it at Mindy's house. The new one with the big windows. I'll bring the jambalaya and the bourbon.

Mindy and Elizabeth are sitting there saying, "You should have just come to ThrillerFest."

Guilty as charged. (But Phoenix in July?)


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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Best Man Crabs

Yeah, he beat me to the punch. Dinner was nice.

Best Man and Godfather to our Oldest Child (with his wife and two daughters) met us in Gettysburg on Friday afternoon. Our wondrous tour guide pointed out Maryland about 87 times on the tour, and Best Man and Godfather lives there. He and the family piled into the RepublicanMobile and showed up at dinner time.

It was 96 degrees and we ate dessert first while we waited for the Republicans to do whatever Republicans do when they travel. The Saint and the kids had Italian Ice and I had Gelati, which I think was supposed to be Gelato. I'm not going to quibble. It was delicious.

We went to an Irish restaurant named after a famous New Yorker killed during the battle. The unanimous opinion was that nobody was eating outside, including in the shade, because even though it was nearing 6:00, it was still more than 90 degrees. Yes, we ate early. There were five children in the party of nine. They were hungry. We were being responsible parents until we ordered Sangria.

The Irish restaurant named after the dead New Yorker only had seats at the bar and in the smoking section. So we went to some other place up the street. They seated us after a wait of about fifteen minutes (which was very strange, since we were one of three parties in the restaurant at the time).

On the theory that anytime I'm in Maryland, I eat crab cakes, I ordered crab cakes. I may have mentioned that we were in Pennsylvania. I may also have mentioned that I could SEE Maryland. Therefore, constructively, I was in Maryland. I ordered crab cakes.

But the best part of dinner was the appetizer. Best Man and Godfather spoiled that, too. Bayside Fries. You know those Aussie Cheese Fries at the Outback? Fries with cheddar, bacon and a ranch sauce? Right. These were better. Fries with an Old Bay cheese sauce, lump crab meat and more cheese (a cheddar-jack blend).

Kinda wish said guide had been with us. She'd have put the Republican from Maryland in his place.

The Saint and Best Man and Godfather's Wife talked about... what women talk about. The kids bonded.

Best Man and Godfather and I temporarily abdicated our parental responsibilities. Sort of a 25th Amendment for drunken fathers.

Sample conversation:

Server: And to drink?
Adam: I'll have a glass of Sangria.
Server: Red or White?
Adam: Red [Honest, I didn't add "duhhhh." White Sangria? Not the same as red].
Server [to the Republican Infiltrator]: And for you, Sir?
Best Man and Godfather: Wanna make it a pitcher?
Adam: Duhhhh. Why the hell didn't I think of that?
Server: A pitcher of Red Sangria?
Adam and BMAG: Duhhhh.

Yeah, I made some of this up to make it sound better. Plus, it was (down to) 93 degrees and I was thirsty, and all I'd had to drink was some spectacular sangria. Three glasses. OK, OK, before you call me a lightweight, you need to know that BMAG's car could have fit inside the glass. BMAG drives a minivan.

I have no idea what the Saint ate. The kids each had some variation of chicken products. BMAG's wife had the same. BMAG had a steak. The potato salad I ate with my crab cakes was delicious, but not in the same league as the potato salad BMAG's wife makes. The crab cakes were close to perfect, almost no filler, totally fresh, just enough Old Bay, and right out of the Chesapeake. I finished it off with Sangria.

The inside joke here is that BMAG and I have an ongoing competition. It started in college. Right. It's an ancient tradition now. Instead of seeing which one of us can screw the other and avoid the check-- you know, getting up and heading for the john when the bill arrives, like normal people do?-- we fight over who gets to treat. Quaint and endearing, yes. We're wonderful people and no, you can't marry us.

So BMAG decides to perform... well, in honor of the world's best tour guide, let's call it a flanking maneuver...

BMAG pulls off a textbook, clandestine, "Make sure I get the bill" to the hostess.

The hostess dropped the ball. "I'll try to tell your server."

BMAG says, "Just make sure that the guy in the red shirt gets the bill." Easy, right? BMAG was wearing a red polo shirt. I was in blue Springsteen regalia.

I mean, I had no idea any of this was going on, and at this stage, we're still pre-Sangria.

We end up sitting at a round table, and it's absolutely no contest. The bill arrives. I'm 6'1"; BMAG is 6'4", but I've established position. He's boxed out (BMAG, the Saint and Elizabeth Krecker are the only ones still following the analogy, now that I've switched to hoops) and I outweigh BMAG by... way too much... Like I said. No contest. Three Sangrias and a full dinner and I still had the bill in my hand before the server even knew what the hell was happening.

I mean, Server to Hurtubise was like Bird to Walton in the low post in 1986, with BMAG playing the role of Ralph Samson. Like I said. No contest.

BMAG had a brilliant plan, but he failed to execute.

Serious aside: I was going to make a Gettysburg analogy about brilliant plans and failure to execute, but I learned that you don't joke about the Battle of Gettysburg. There's a sense of duty in that little town, a sense of reverence.

Here's what Lincoln said in the finest address ever delivered by anybody, anywhere:

"The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced."
How does that relate to a sense of duty? People who live in Gettysburg... well, those who don't work at tourist traps... feel a profound sense of duty to share their knowledge, to teach visitors about the battle. To make sure we remember what happened fifty years before our grandparents were born. Four score and seven doesn't seem so long now, does it?

Our guide told us that it was a privilege to live in Gettysburg. That stuck with me. Our guide is carrying on the work Lincoln exhorted people to perform.

Trust me, it was a privilege to live in Cooperstown, too, but I don't get misty-eyed when I say it, because Cooperstown's about baseball (the best game in the world, yes, but a game). When our guide said it was a privilege to live in Gettysburg, I did, I confess, get misty-eyed. That's a place where the history of the world changed in 3 days.

We have now reached the end of my serious aside. No apologies, other than that this aside should have been its own post.

BMAG politely thanked me for picking up the tab, but you can see by his comment on my last post that he's still seething. Whoops. Sorry about that. OK, you're right. I'm not sorry about that, either. I promise I'll win next time, too, without cheating (and really, telling the hostess is cheating, especially if the ploy fails). It's like if A-Rod had tried to slap the ball away during the Choke of 2004. Oh, wait. That really happened.

I got the tab. The server was confused. So was the hostess. They both realized they were supposed to hand the bill to the guy with hair. Or the guy in the red shirt. Or whatever.

Before you whack me over the head with a cyber-plank, by the way, she was a hostess. She called herself a hostess and the sign said, "Our hostess will be pleased to seat you." I'm not being sexist, I'm being accurate.

And no, my fine readers, you are most assuredly NOT the only ones who think BMAG and I are nuts. BMAG's wife, the Saint and all 5 potential heirs to the realm (three of mine and two of BMAG's) agree with you.

Sangria, anyone?


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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Oh, the Stories I'll tell

So many things to discuss, so little time... I'm just going to start the brain dump now.

Gettysburg is lovely. It's like Cooperstown, the tourist Mecca where I grew up. And if I were going to compare the residents of each town to those who elect our politicians, I'd call them single issue voters. In Cooperstown, Baseball is King. In Gettysburg, it's all about the Battle. Yes, my seven-year-old son came up with the prototype for this paragraph while eating an ice cream cone last week. Yes, I stole it from him. Yes, he called me on it.

Elizabeth Krecker had a great post about setting a little while ago. Setting is vital, but I here's what I noticed in Gettysburg: Mood. Not a literary mood. More like a collective mood... an emotion. Cooperstown is all about fun, shared memories with the kids.

Gettysburg is somber (as it should be). It's a historical treasure trove, and it's an amazing place in which to learn. And it's FUN learning there... But it's not a fun place.

A not so random aside: There are tourist traps in every tourist destination, and Gettysburg is full of them. Be careful if you visit there. You can easily leave town broke, without ever having seen the battlefield (which takes up most of the village).

If you go, you can take a bus and listen to a narrated tour on headphones. You can buy a CD of the same tour and drive the battlefield yourself.

Or you can hire a Licensed National Park Service Guide. Said guide will have more knowledge of the battle than an encyclopedia or any thirty random authors who've written about it (these guides take a test roughly akin to a bar exam, with which I am familiar, or a CPA exam, with which I am not familiar).

Said guide will have a sunny disposition.

Side guide will drive your vehicle so you, the Saint and the kids can relax. Actually, I wasn't relaxed. I was learning new things about the Civil War, one of my favorite topics, after reading dozens of books on Gettysburg alone. I was bouncing in my seat for most of the ride. At one point I wanted to sit on the hood.

Said guide will know more than you do about the battle, even when you think you know more.

Said guide will correct your misperceptions (and your know it all mentality) so gently that you won't even notice.

Said guide will instantly bond with your Saint and your children. Example: "General Lee went into this battle with a cocky attitude. He was 9-0 as a Commanding General. It's like the Patriots after they win nine Super Bowls in a row." Oldest son and middle son were hooked 15 seconds into the tour. Daughter wasn't hooked, but Daughter was mezmerized by the energetic woman driving the car and making Daddy laugh. The Saint... let's be honest... Gettysburg wasn't supposed to be the highlight of her trip... Well, the Saint was hooked, too.

Said guide will be an excellent teacher. Perhaps that's why The Saint liked said guide so much. The Saint, who is truly gifted when it comes to the English language, knows her way around a classroom.

Said guide will be a world class communicator. Does it surprise any of you that said guide has written at least two published works of non-fiction and just sold her first novel to Doubleday? And how's this for cosmic? Yes, the same Doubleday (Abner) who mythologically founded baseball in my hometown was a vital corps commander at Gettysburg who stepped in when General John Reynolds was killed on the first day of the battle. That same Doubleday's family founded a publishing house. Yes, I knew all of that and said guide didn't correct me. She even gave me a pat on the back I didn't really deserve, since I was showing off. Here's what I didn't know (and this is the cosmic part): That same publishing house purchased said guide's novel.

Said guide will have a growing corps of "regulars" who hire her every time they come to Gettysburg. There are legions of Civil War buffs who do this, just like there are legions of baseball fans who make an annual pilgrimage to Cooperstown.

Said guide will take a 2-hour tour and stretch it to 3 hours and fifteen minutes, just because... Said guide's regulars call her (at home) weeks and months in advance to plan tours... Not the 2-hour variety... "This year, let's do the second day, entirely from the Confederate perspective..." Or: "This year, let's trace the 20th Maine's involvement in the whole battle." The regulars hire said guide for days at a time.

Said guide will know how to call an audible. Said guide will actually listen to the conversation in the car and adapt the tour to fit the conversation. I was therefore able to stand at the monument where Gen. Lewis Armistead fell on Cemetery Ridge. I was able to stand at the monument to the 20th Maine (and to think of my buddy Gib, engaged in a hell of a battle himself). The boys and I were able to walk the last 200 yards of Pickett's Charge.

Said guide will instantly correlate relevant data from this exact second and apply it to the battle: "It's 2:50 in the afternoon. We're standing at the top of Cemetery Ridge. It's 93 degrees with 70 percent humidity. Pickett's Charge took place at 3 in the afternoon of a Friday (we toured the battlefield on Friday) under weather conditions virtually identical to this one."

And then said guide will rattle off:

  1. The regulars in Pickett's division hadn't slept in 5 days.
  2. They hadn't drunk any water all day.
  3. They were wearing wool and carrying heavy packs.
  4. They'd spent most of the previous two months marching.
  5. This list really has about 51 items on it, but it's seamless.
Then she'll say something relatively simple like, "What if you'd given each of those men a glass of water?" And you realize that the whole battle could have turned out differently.

Said guide will say nice things about the other guides ("We all have our regulars.") We think anybody who can pass the licensing exam is worthy of praise, but we think said guide is the cream of the crop.

Said guide will stop for gas in the middle of the tour.

Said guide will be funny and kind and smarter than you, without letting on that she's smarter than you.

If you're ever headed to Gettysburg, give me a call or shoot me an e-mail. Forget about the bus ride or the CD. I know a guide you need to hire. If you like history, it'll be the best money you ever spent. If you don't agree with me, I'll reimburse you.

More on Gettysburg later (There was an entire dinner with Best Man and Godfather to Our Oldest Son, his wife and family, after the Battlefield Tour). And I'll have a few posts about Hershey also, but here's what I remember most about Chocolate Town, USA: Not the rides. Not the candy. The unmitigated joy I saw on the kids' faces; The Saint's smile; the fact that everybody called this THE BEST TRIP EVER. In bold. All caps.

So much more to discuss, but we're out of time.


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Monday, July 10, 2006

More Vacation Notes

Today was my first day back at work after a week away. I'm in the office for a whopping two more days before the Saint, the kids and I go on vacation again.

Part I of the vacation was Grandchildren's Week. Yes, my Mom and Dad take the kids for a week every summer. Yes, the Saint and I get to go off by ourselves. Yes, you know where we went. Yes, we all know we're lucky.

About that special vacation place: The waiters serve booze on the beach. We usually arrived at our lounge chairs at around 10:30 in the morning and stayed until at least 5. The servers arrived soon after we did.

The morning of my birthday, the Saint and I toasted the occasion. (Random aside: For some reason, I drink banana daiquiris on the beach. I still drink bourbon at night. End of random aside.)

Soon after our toast, the Saint issued this memorable line: "I just had a f&$%ing Margarita for breakfast!" You'll notice that I said nothing about the daiquiri I drank in accompaniment. The funny part, for those of you who don't know the Saint yet, is, yes, that really was her first breakfast Maragarita.

So, Part II of the vacation is with the kids (we're thinking maybe next summer we'll do the part with the kids first so then we can recharge our batteries while the kids have Grandchildren's Week). We're going to Gettysburg. Honest, my sons picked the destination, not me. Yes, I'm being a nerd and rereading The Killer Angels. I'm also cheering, very loudly, because my boys are History buffs like their old man.

Then we're going to Hershey for fun, games and chocolate. That's 16 hours on the road, for those of you keeping score at home. But it'll be fun.

Speaking of fun, drinking beers with Lt. Ed Novak was fun. Wow, did I hear some stories. That's another aside, but it's not random.

Today, after work, I started the next vacation countdown. The next vacation countdown isn't as much fun as the first vacation countdown was.

Here's what I need to do:
  • Fill the gas tank. Again. With the van, we can usually stretch one tank for an entire month. This will be 4 fill-ups in 8 days, and since we're driving 16 hours, there'll be at least three more fill-ups. On the upside, we usually fill the Jeep once a week, and we haven't filled it in two, but we've driven it a total of 1.3 miles in that two weeks.
  • Mow the lawn. Oldest son doesn't know it yet, but he's nominated, seconded and elected to that job. Check that. He just called in from a friend's house. He knows now.
  • Weed whack fucking near everything. I'll censor the Saint's quotes, because she's a Saint. I won't censor mine because I'm not. By the way, I weed whacked fucking near everything tonight, so that job's done. I also fought the mosquitoes to a draw. There might be a couple of unbitten spots on my arms, but you really need to see what a weed whacker-mosquito collision looks like. You tap the trigger on the weed whacker just right, and the mosquito evaporates into this tiny red mist. It's so much fun that you don't even care that the red mist came out of your arm. Trust me, or better yet, try it. Honestly, you won't feel deranged after half an hour of this. You'll think it's fun.
  • Fix the tail light on the van. I think the Saint did that today, but I'm listing it here to generate sympathy for the looooong to-do list I have to get done by Wednesday night.
  • Mapquest a route to Gettysburg from Boston.
  • Mapquest Gettysburg to Hershey.
  • Then Mapquest Hershey to home. Okay, I did those three, too, but don't they make my list look longer, especially when I list them as three tasks instead of one? I think Jim Atwell wrote a column about to-do lists. Be back in a minute.... Yes, Jim's column on to-do lists is right here. In fact, he talks about taking a list and adding things to it, after the fact, to make the list look longer. So, yeah, Jim, I think I just stole that whole bit from you. Sorry.**
  • Make dinner plans with Godfather to the Oldest Son and Best Man from Our Wedding. Yes, the same guy has both titles, much like Victoria was Queen of England, Ireland, Scotland & Wales, and Empress of All India. Let's see, if Vicki were alive today, her title would be... Queen of England and Wales, Trying but Failing to Hold onto Scotland, and Shit, Ireland and India are Long Gone. Does the sun set on the British Empire now? Yeah, I think so. Did I have anything to do with that? No, but I'm in a taunting mood.
  • Arrange for somebody to feed The Obese Feline. Got that one started, so I believe it's another list lengthener.
  • Ditto on the "Get somebody to bring in the newspapers and mail" task. Same kid, from a few houses down, is feeding The Obese Feline AND removing papers and mail from the porch. But doesn't it look better as part of my to-do list? What's the sense of a been-done list? I mean other than the sense of accomplishment you get when you do the last thing on it. Trust me. That feeling's fleeting. As soon as I finish one list, somebody (read: The Saint) hands me another.
  • Put up a blog post about how hard it is to get ready for vacation. See how I slipped in another completed task? Jim Atwell was onto something.
Okay, I think I'm done. We're out of here Thursday morning. Maybe even Wednesday night. I won't be working on the novel while we're on the road. You may see a blog post. You may not.

We'll be passing through the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Anybody want some Scrapple? Please, please, please say no.


** Not really

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Short Version

The Saint, the kids and I are back.
Great trip for all 5 of us.

The Sagamore was fabulous, as usual.

Paul Simon at Doubleday Field (capacity, 10,000) was great.

The Atwells are as terrific as they always are.

I had a great birthday with family and friends.

And Lt. Ed Novak is home, safe, for a few more days. I saw Ed, his wife and their kids a bunch of times, including at a party in Ed's honor. In fact, we had breakfast this morning. He's home for good in October.

More later. Still decompressing after a long drive.


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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

And We're Off!

The Saint and I are leaving to do a whole lot of nothing on Lake George.

If you don't hear from us, don't feel bad. In fact, if you don't hear from us, don't do anything. We're fine. See you... whenever.

Happy Summer!


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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Paradise Revisited

The Saint, the kids and I are in Fly Creek. The amazing part about the drive was seeing water everywhere. The flooding in this part of central New York is the worst I've ever seen it.

Normally pristine, green-blue Otsego Lake is brown. There are no beaches anywhere on the lake right now because they're all underwater.

But it's still paradise.

We're seeing Lt. Ed Novak and his family, and some of our friends, later today, on the lake (yes, I know, there are no beaches).

And the Atwells are right down the road... We've also got another few parties coming, one on my mother's side of the family, another on my father's side.

Tuesday, Paul Simon plays Doubleday Field.

And then the Saint and I sneak away for a few days by ourselves. We've been in the jurisdiction for 17 hours and 50 minutes as I write this, and I think we've been busy the whole time.

The Saint is calling me. We're off to Cooperstown for a walk among the tourists. I promise we won't try to blend in with them. I used to live here, after all.


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